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Domestic abuse: insufficient police response


police federation conference, Theresa May, domestic abuse, violence, The Home Secretary has once again had to acknowledge the police are failing domestic abuse victims.

Speaking at the Police Federation’s annual conference recently, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said  that “victims of abuse are still being let down and reports are not being taken seriously enough”.

In 2013, May commissioned a review of the police response to domestic abuse, and the results were damning.

And when a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) called ‘Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse’, was released the following year, the Home Secretary herself said that it made “depressing reading”.

HMIC inspects policing in the public interest.

The author of the report, Zoe Billingham, said at the time: “The service provided to victims of domestic abuse by the police is too often unacceptable.

“Police leaders told us tackling domestic abuse is important, but in the majority of forces it is a priority on paper only and not in practice.

“It is deeply disappointing that the stated intent is not translating into an operational reality.

“The police service urgently needs to improve its overall response.”

At this year’s Police Federation conference, May said that while improvements have been made since the 2013 review, “examples of the same shameful behaviour persisted.”

‘This shameful behaviour’ includes victims being referred to as ‘bitch’ and ‘slag’ by police officers, and comments from responding officers responding to calls saying for example, ‘it’s a DV, we’ll be a few minutes and we’ll go to the next job’.

She also spoke out against the officers “who put victims of serious domestic violence into a room with their attacker in the name of restorative justice, with no consideration of the psychological and emotional damage that can cause.

“I know that restorative justice is meant to be victim-led and I know that guidance says it should be considered in all cases,” she said, “but I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators who for months and years may have destroyed their confidence, manipulated their mind, and beaten their bodies.”

May also told the conference, “the right skills, training and commitment to protect the vulnerable are still not held by every single police officer”, and spoke of “officers who couldn’t spot dangerous patterns of abuse.”

As a result of the 2013 review, every police force in England and Wales now has an action plan to tackle domestic abuse and they are collecting standardised data.

However, as May said at the conference, “not a single one of these police forces is outstanding at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm and supporting victims, and 31 forces are judged to be either inadequate or requiring improvement.”

The Home Secretary also highlighted an extremely worrying issue with regard to the way in which police officers treat domestic abuse cases and victims.

“We know of officers who develop inappropriate relationships with victims of domestic abuse.

“They have ignored their professional duty and their moral responsibility and instead abused their position of power to exploit victims.

“We do not know the true scale of this, but everyone in this room will know it goes on far more than we might care to admit”.

In response to this, May has asked HMIC, headed by Sir Tom Winsor, to investigate this issue.

It is certainly a relief, and a moment of significance, to see the inadequacy of the way in which domestic abuse is dealt with properly recognised by a government minister.

We have to ask however, is this down to the fact that the Home Secretary is a woman? Would it be taken as seriously if the Home Secretary were a man?

And does David Cameron, or the other male members of Parliament, regard domestic abuse as the urgent matter that it is?

Unfortunately, the government’s response to domestic abuse and the way it is handled has tended to be all talk and no action.

With an average of two women a week killed by a partner, spouse or ex we cannot afford to take a lax attitude – and the government and the police need to cooperate to take effective action immediately.

The increase in the number of victims actually reporting perpetrators to the police is of course a positive step, however it is meaningless if these reports are not dealt with properly.

Particularly as many of those reporting abuse are potentially risking their lives by coming forward.

Thus far the attitudes towards domestic abuse and its victims within the police, which can only be described as utterly disgraceful, are, sadly, reflections of those in wider society, and there are many organisations and services, not just the police, that need to make changes so that victims get proper help, protection, and justice, and perpetrators appropriate punishments.

Hopefully, the Home Secretary will now lead the way in making sure these changes are made. And soon.

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